The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11 declared COVID-19 a pandemic. “This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, at a media briefing. “So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.”
WHO’s Definition of Pandemic
According to the WHO, a pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease.
“An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges and spreads around the world, and most people do not have immunity. Viruses that have caused past pandemics typically originated from animal influenza viruses”, says the WHO.
Important thing to remember is that Pandemics have nothing to do with the severity of a disease but are to do with its geographic spread.
The term is most often applied to new influenza strains, and it’s used when viruses are able to infect people easily and spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way in multiple regions. The declaration refers to the spread of a disease, rather than the severity of the illness it causes.
Differences between Pandemic and Epidemic
- Once a pandemic is declared, it becomes more likely that community spread will eventually happen, and governments and health systems need to ensure they are prepared for that.
- An epidemic, on the other hand, is a sudden increase in cases of an illness or disease that can be unique to one country or community.
Purpose of declaring a disease as a pandemic is to get the critical mass on board to take it seriously and not ignore symptoms, and to get the finances required to help tackle and control it.
However, one risk that is associated with declaration of pandemic is that it can trigger global panic. Instead of raising awareness about the diseases, it might put unnecessary pressure on healthcare services overwhelming emergency departments and causing governments to overspend on antiviral medications.
This had been the case of declaration of H1N1 as pandemic in 2009.
Coronavirus symptoms are generally mild and most people recover within six days. Hence, what is important is the timely intervention.
What are other examples of pandemics?
The 2009 H1N1 outbreak, HIV (1981), Spanish flu (1918), bubonic plague (1347) and smallpox (1870) are all examples of pandemics.